Twitter Snitches Get No Twitter Stitches

The Guy Adams/NBC/Twitter flap angered a lot of people, but if I’m allowed to have a moment of emotional narcissism, I’ve found it more infuriating than most. The incident not only echoes nonsense I went through not too long ago, but makes said nonsense seem even more weird and gross in retrospect.

In case you don’t know about this tale, here’s the short version: Guy Adams, Los Angeles bureau chief for the English newspaper the Independent, wrote a series of tweets ripping NBC a new Costas-hole for its terrible Olympics coverage. Shortly thereafter, his Twitter account was suspended. Twitter told him he’d been suspended because he’d tweeted a private email address of an NBC exec. In truth, the email address Adams posted was readily available to the public. Therefore, the email reason seemed a flimsy excuse to suspend a vocal critic of NBC, which is officially partnering with Twitter for these Olympics. Adams’ account was restored after he issued an “apology,” but not before it was revealed that it was Twitter who initially blew the whistle on him to NBC, not the other way around.

I went through something similar a month ago with my parody account @TimesPublicEdit, albeit for slightly different reasons and on a far smaller scale. Basically, a few news orgs mistook the account for the real New York Times public editor and reported one of my tweets as coming from him. Like Adams, I was never informed my account was suspended. Like Adams, I quickly found out that Twitter’s procedures for dealing with suspensions is to shoot and ask questions later; upon receipt of a complaint, they will both assume you are guilty and leave it up to you to figure out how to rectify the situation. Also like Adams, the burden was put on me to prove my contrition for an offense I didn’t commit. (In my case, that offense was “attempting to mislead” people, which was not even remotely my intent.)

At the time, I tried to be philosophical about the whole affair. My thinking was, since I was playing on someone else’s lawn, I had to go home when they said so. As unfair as the suspension seemed to me, Twitter had the prerogative to do whatever they wanted to do and I had to accept that as the price of using their platform to write my dumb jokes about Bill Keller and man-buns. I also tried to not take it personally, since I got the impression that my entire case was handled by bots and algorithms. There’s something slightly comforting in the thought that you’ve been picked at random by computers rather than singled out by Dark Overlords.

I’d resigned myself to all this, until the Guy Adams case angried up my blood again. Aside from the parallels to my own case, it also revealed that Twitter really does have people who take a proactive role in suspending accounts. So proactive, in fact, that they’ll rat you out to the people you are supposed to have offended.

I doubt someone from Twitter contacted one of the news orgs dumb enough to take @TimesPublicEdit for the real thing and instructed them on how to get me suspended, as they did with Guy Adams and NBC. It doesn’t seem nearly important enough to warrant such a response. But it does seem obvious that Twitter guards its corporate relationships with Spanish Inquisition-esque fanaticism. And that’s fine, to an extent; I know Twitter’s gotta keep the lights on and I don’t expect them to stay in business out of the goodness of their heart. But it’s one thing to not actively piss off the people who pay your bills. It’s another to snitch on your own users in order to curry favor with those bill-payers.

What I find infuriating, in light of these new revelations of Twitter’s procedures, is to know that there are people directly handling these cases, and it seems fairly obvious that their only real job is to make corporations happy. Otherwise, why are the legions of hateful Twitter accounts still allowed to exist? I know people who’ve had to deal with truly vile trolls who said everything to them up to and including death threats. Formal complaints about these monsters were met with a shrug of the shoulders and a response that amounted to, Eh, whatta gonna do?

I used to consider this simply the price of an unfettered arena of free speech like Twitter, where anyone can say anything they want and “anyone” includes the worst humans on the planet. But as the Guy Adams case–and similar cases, like mine–points out, clearly Twitter isn’t an unrestricted free speech zone. They have standards and consider certain arbitrary behavior beyond the pale. Therefore, Twitter has to explain why free speech includes the violent rants of sociopaths and racists, but stops short of being critical of their corporate partners.

I’ll reiterate what I wrote a few weeks ago: Use Twitter as a promotional tool. Do not use it as a medium unto itself. It can be taken from you at any time, and they will not be inclined to help you get it back. Especially if they’re the ones who snitched on you in the first place.